December 5, 2022

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Gordon's big day: 'I feel like I kind of resemble Ohtani'

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MINNEAPOLIS — Considering his pedigree, you’d think Nick Gordon would have snapped off a wicked curveball or two. He claims to have learned the trademark hammer of his father, three-time All-Star reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon, too.

But no, the utility man didn’t show off the hook in his first career pitching appearance during the Twins’ 11-3 loss to Houston in the resumption of a suspended game on Thursday — but he insists that was through no fault of his own, because catcher José Godoy wouldn’t call the pitch, no matter how many times Gordon shook him off.

“I was ready to bring it out,” Gordon said. “Two strikes. That’s what I wanted. I kept shaking.”

Even so, he was one of the few Twins pitchers to avoid damage from the Astros’ lineup this series, and Flash couldn’t have done what his son did in center field in the second game of the doubleheader, when he made a stellar diving catch in the gap and went 2-for-4 at the plate as a bright spot on an otherwise very forgettable day for the Twins, who also lost the series finale, 5-0, and were swept for the first time this season.

Dad couldn’t have done all that — but maybe one other guy might have held up to Gordon’s standard.

“I’ve been kind of asking [manager Rocco Baldelli] to pitch since last year,” Gordon said. “I feel like I kind of resemble [Shohei] Ohtani a little bit.”

Gordon did outdo Ohtani in one facet of the game with that all-out diving play near the warning track in right-center field to rob Jose Altuve of extra bases and two RBIs during the doubleheader finale.

With one run already in against rookie right-hander Josh Winder, the Astros had runners on the corners with two outs when Altuve crushed a fly ball into the gap. Gordon, who was shaded a bit toward left-center, reached a sprint speed of 29.5 feet per second — just shy of the “elite” threshold of 30 — before he sprawled onto the dirt and reached out to snag the ball.

With a catch probability of 35 percent, that was considered a four-star catch, the Twins’ fifth of the year. Gilberto Celestino had accounted for a pair of four-star snags this season, while Max Kepler and Byron Buxton had contributed one apiece.

All that’s particularly impressive considering Gordon hadn’t played in the outfield since he was 12 years old before being pressed into action in center field last June.

“With every single day, learning more and more,” he said. “Like I said, I got [Buxton] there. So just watching him, really picking his brain, learning. Just learning as much as I can. He’s teaching me.”

The 26-year-old also knocked singles off Astros starter Luis Garcia and reliever Seth Martinez, giving him a .250/.291/.308 line for the season that doesn’t necessarily paint his value to this team fairly, as he’s been a plug-and-play option around the infield and in both left and center field throughout this season while the Twins have suffered plenty of injury attrition around him.

He’d have preferred for this kind of showing to have happened in a more positive setting for his teammates, too, as the Twins’ banged-up offense scuffled throughout the series in a pair of shutouts against Houston and has put up only 10 runs across the first six games of this homestand.

“I mean, it’s a good day when we win,” Gordon said. “I’m not too much worried about results. Definitely not personal results. It’s a team game. For me it feels good when we win.”

But he did have fun when he took the mound in the ninth inning of the first game on Thursday, when he allowed a single to Jeremy Peña but otherwise retired Kyle Tucker on a popout, Jose Siri on a groundout (on a nice diving play by Gio Urshela) and Martín Maldonado on another ground ball.

Significantly, he did recoup some family pitching pride after his older half-brother, Dee Strange-Gordon, had allowed a big fly to Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies exactly a month earlier.

“I can’t give up a long ball right there,” Gordon said. “I’ve seen my brother do it. That hurt us as a family a little bit, so we had to bounce back.”

He’d have done one thing differently, though.

“Next time, though, I’m bringing the curveball out,” he said.

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